As much as $14 billion of local government infrastructure is at risk from sea level rise, according a new LGNZ report, which calls on central government to urgently develop policies to help minimise the impact of climate change on New Zealand’s communities.
The research, developed in conjunction with environmental and engineering consultancy Tonkin + Taylor, modelled various sea level rise scenarios using LiDAR and other topographical data from 62 councils.
It showed that $2.7 billion of roading, three waters, and building infrastructure is at risk from as little as a 0.5 metre rise in sea levels. The value of at risk infrastructure ramped up sharply at each increment of sea level rise, with the data showing:
- $5.1 billion is at risk at 1m,
- $7.8 is at risk at 1.5m, and
- $14.1 billion is at risk at 3m.
“Many councils are already experiencing the impact of sea level rise, most notably in Bay of Plenty, the West Coast, South Dunedin and Hawke’s Bay, but we haven’t had an accurate nationwide understanding of the community-owned infrastructure that is at risk, until now,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.
“Using sea level rise scenarios that are based on the best local and international scientific advice, our research paints a really stark picture for local communities. That’s not even factoring in the total value of assets at risk from sea level rise, which skyrockets when you start factoring things that sit on top of this infrastructure, like highways, homes, businesses, office buildings, hospitals, factories and schools.”
“That’s why we need to urgently ramp up work on New Zealand’s adaptation framework. As a small country our efforts in the mitigation space – while necessary – are not going to meaningfully move the dial on global carbon emissions. But changes in the climate will definitely impact us, principally in the form of rising sea levels as two-third of all New Zealanders live within five kilometres of the sea.”
The report makes four key recommendations, namely that:
- Local government leads a national conversation about the level of local government services currently provided and what can be maintained in the short (1 – 10 years), medium (10 – 30 years) and long term (30+ years) as sea levels rise.
- Central and local government partner to establish a National Climate Change Adaptation Fund to ensure that costs of adaptation are shared equally, and do not over impact lower socioeconomic households.
- Establish a Local Government Risk Agency to help councils understand and factor climate change risks into their planning, decision-making and procurement frameworks.
- Local government team up with owners and users of exposed infrastructure to create a National Master Plan, setting out options, priorities and opportunities for responding to sea level rise.
“Local councils have for many years led the policy debate around climate change adaptation in New Zealand. We are literally on the front line, and have been engaging with residents, iwi, and businesses who are exposed to rising sea levels, but the threat is too big for us to fight alone.”
“As a country, we cannot continue to respond to climate change related events on a piecemeal basis. We need to put a robust policy framework in place to ensure we minimise the disruption and harm to communities, and we only have a relatively narrow timeframe in which to do it before the scenarios in our report become a reality.”
“The costs of and preparing for sea level rise will be significant, but we need to recognise that the costs of doing nothing are even greater. We hope that this information provides our decision makers with a greater sense of urgency to prepare for sea level rise.”
The full report, ‘Vulnerable: The quantum of local government infrastructure exposed to sea level rise,’ is available here.
A summary of the report is available here.